Waste is one of the biggest issues of the modern world, and in the North African nation of Morocco though the concept of recycling is still in its infancy, it has been making steady progress – with the help of a Swiss firm – as the country has been processing organic waste
"Nothing's thrown away here: everything is transformed," said Mohamed El Kabous proudly, crumbling a fistful of compost produced by Elephant Vert (EV – Green Elephant) in the central city of Meknes.
Established in 2012 as EV's largest such plant on the African continent, the factory has an annual turnover of 40,000 tons of compost and organic fertilizer.
Mountains of sawdust, palettes and fruit tree branches cover a storage platform as trucks rumble past loaded with manure, and excavators aerate piles of compost.
EV production manager Kabous said no household organic waste is processed at the factory because "it's too costly."
The pre-sorting of residential waste is "almost nonexistent," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Instead, the waste comes from nearby farms and factories that work with wood or cooperatives producing essential oils.
"After the carbon-rich organic matter and nitrogen-rich manure from nonindustrial livestock breeding is mixed, nature then takes over," Kabous said.
Wood is absorbent, so no stench emanates from the open-air fermentation area, where it takes about four months to produce the compost.
The odor is actually of fresh earth. Kabous joked that it even smelt like "zammita," a traditional Moroccan cake made with flour, almonds and sesame seeds.
The EV plant also produces fertilizer by adding potash or phosphorus to the compost.
EV's output is sold mainly on the local market to organic farms and large enterprises whose soil has lost nutrients through the over-use of chemical fertilizers.
Agriculture remains a pillar of the Moroccan economy.
"There's increasing demand from farmers keen to make sure their land is sustainable, and who know they need to opt for healthy and sustainable agriculture," Kabous said.
Meknes is also home to other organic recycling initiatives, including a waste treatment and recovery plant operated by French giant Suez.
But nationwide, it's a different story.
In 2015, official figures supplied to AFP showed that just 6% of household waste was recycled – 420,000 tons out of 7 million – while the rest was buried.
Instead, up to 12% of industrial waste was recycled – mainly plastic, paper, metal and electrical and electronic equipment.
Morocco's official recycling target is 20% of waste by 2022, a date now pushed back to 2030.
Mustapha Brakez, an expert in urban recycling, was scathing of government efforts to boost the practice.
"These strategies the bureaucrats in (the capital) Rabat have come up will lead nowhere as they are based on models from Europe, which are opposite to Moroccan habits," he said.
Nearly 80% of household waste in Morocco is organic, he noted, while in Europe the figure is less than 30%.
The kingdom has just 26 landfill and sorting centers, while official data shows that 66 illegal rubbish dumps have been regularised or closed.
"Every effort is focused on treatment, without coming up with solutions for collection" of the waste, Brakez said.
He called waste management in Morocco "a time bomb."
"We will just create even more landfills, without taking care of the problem at source," he said.
"It is essential to come up with a system that starts with sorting at the household level."
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